MPs reject McKinlay’s call for Lords ministers to answer Commons questions

July 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm Leave a comment

by James Easy

On Monday night a debate concerning the creation of a new select committee (Reform of the House of Commons Committee) was held. The new committee would “consider reform of the procedures of the House of Commons.”

The motion before the House “[gave] effect to that proposal by establishing a Committee to make recommendations on the appointment of members and Chairmen of Select Committees, the scheduling of business of the House, and enabling the public to initiate debates and proceedings of the House.”

The proposed committee aims to look at how the reform of parliamentary procedure can achieve stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament through a larger role for Back-Bench Members and the wider public.

Here are the proposals in full:

(1) That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and make recommendations on the following matters:

(a) the appointment of members and chairmen of select committees,

(b) the appointment of the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means;

(c) scheduling business in the House;

(d) enabling the public to initiate debates and proceedings in the House; and

(e) such other matters as appear to the Committee to be closely connected with the matters set out above,

and to report on these matters by 13 November 2009;

(2) That the Committee also consider such other matters as may be referred to it from time to time;

(3) That the Committee consist of eighteen Members;

(4) That Mr Graham Allen, Mr Clive Betts, Mr Graham Brady, Mr David Clelland, Mr David Drew, Natascha Engel, Dr Evan Harris, David Howarth, Mr Michael Jack, Mr Greg Knight, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mr Chris Mullin, Dr Nick Palmer, Martin Salter, Dr Phyllis Starkey, Mr Andrew Tyrie, Dr Tony Wright and Sir George Young be members of the Committee;

(5) That Dr Tony Wright be Chairman of the Committee;

(6) That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place, to report from time to time and to appoint specialist advisers;

(7) That this Order be a Standing Order of the House until the end of the present Parliament.

In one of the prominent and distinct speeches of the debate (most of them said the same thing in different words), Andrew Mackinlay (Lab, Thurrock) wanted to insert at the end of amendment (a), line 3, a provision for “members of the House of Lords to respond to questions in the Commons for oral answer and to pilot legislative proposals through this House on matters within their Ministerial responsibilities”.

His rationale was that he “simply wanted to have access to those Ministers who are in Government and have Executive Authority…[as] probing and examining the Executive is one of our primary duties.”

He later continued…”It would improve our legislative process if the architect of a piece of legislation were to pilot it through both Houses.”

This caused Lynne Jones (Lab, Birmingham, Selly Oak) to ask whether “that would require the Prime Minister and Lord Mandelson to pilot every Bill?”

Mackinlay replied: “Not so, because this works both ways. There are still a number of distinguished Ministers in the Commons, and they would be able to go the House of Lords.

“There are also some very significant Ministers in the House of Lords…Colleagues and comrades should pause and think about it: this is the elected House of Commons, and we do not have access to the Minister who is in charge of national security.

“Surely that is both breathtaking and an abdication of responsibility by this place.”

In order to back up his proposal, Mackinlay cited an assortment of current and historical examples of legislatures where such arrangements existed:

“In the vast majority of parliamentary bicameral legislatures around the world, Ministers appear in both Houses, arguing for their legislation, and defending their stewardship of their Department.

“That is true of many, but not all, Parliaments that are modelled on Westminster throughout the Commonwealth…The Northern Ireland House of Commons and Senate, which endured from 1920 to 1972, had, until 1972, a provision whereby Ministers appeared in both Houses.”

He finished his speech with a stinging attack towards the Government, saying: “What causes me the most regret is that the most conservative element, when it comes to change and constitutional innovation, are my party’s Front Benchers.

“I could burst into tears with the frustration of it. It really is bad. I invite all hon. Members, left right and centre, to join me in the Lobby and to support my modest, sensible amendment, which does not say that such a change will take place; it just says that the Committee consider it.”

Mackinlay’s proposal was praised by Sir George Young (Con, North-West Hampshire), but with one reservation:

“Given the amount of time that the proposed committee has already lost…can we do justice to the important issue he raises in the remaining time available to us, or is the subject of such importance that it deserves separate scrutiny of its own, so that it can be looked at in depth.

“If it is tagged onto the responsibilities already proposed then I fear we may not be able to do the subject justice.”

Ultimately, Mackinlay pushed his amendment to a vote and it was rejected by the House. The proposal for the committee itself however was accordingly agreed to.

The Committee will report on 13 November 2009.


Entry filed under: Committees, Commons, Lords, Procedure. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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